MACON – Dr. Benjamin Woodward Griffith Jr., Mercer alumnus, former University trustee and former chair of the English Department, died Tuesday at the age of 94.
Dr. Griffith was born March 30, 1922, in Lanett, Alabama. During his lifetime, he made significant impacts professionally, socially, artistically and personally. Four institutions of higher education benefited from Dr. Griffith's talents as an educator, folk musician and prolific writer.
Dr. Griffith's dedication to Mercer, in addition to his faculty tenure, included service as a trustee and as a member of the Mercer University Press Board of Directors. His family ties to Mercer also include his late brother, Dr. Jim Griffith, CLA '49, formerly the executive director of the Georgia Baptist Convention; son, Benjy, CLA '77, now a University trustee; and Benjy's wife, Teresa, CLA '78.
In 2001, Mercer established the Benjamin W. Griffith Jr. Chair of English and Development Fund.
After receiving a Bachelor of Arts from Mercer in 1944, Dr. Griffith earned his master's and doctoral degrees from Northwestern University in 1948 and 1952, respectively.
Dr. Griffith began his career in education as a professor of English and chair of the department at Tift College from 1950-55. He also served as a visiting scholar at Duke University in 1955. He then joined the faculty at Mercer, where he served as associate professor of English and, subsequently, director of freshman English and full professor in 1957; chairman of the department in 1961; and Pollock Professor of English from 1955-1970. He also served as Mercer's golf coach for several years.
From 1970-73, he was a professor and head of the English Department at West Georgia College in Carrollton. On July 1, 1973, he was named dean of the graduate school at West Georgia. He retired in 1987.
Dr. Griffith's gifts as a writer and author have touched the lives of many in print and music. He wrote the lyrics for a Christmas song, called “Come and See the Babe,” published by Broadman Press in 1982.
Dr. Griffith was a close personal friend of the late author Flannery O'Connor. Several of his letters to her were published in a collection of her letters, The Habit of Being, and he is mentioned several times in the editor's notes.
His gifts as a specialist in the field of early 19th-century literature have been recognized both in this country and abroad. In 1956, he had scholarly articles printed in a British academic journal published by the Oxford University Press. In total, he published more than 50 articles on literary figures.
Dr. Griffith had two books of theater classics published in 1961, among the four books he authored and the three he edited. The most noted is the publication McIntosh and Weatherford, Creek Indian Leaders. In 1992, he also wrote a two-act play, The Murder of Chief McIntosh.
In addition, Dr. Griffith lectured on folk music, founded and, for several years, directed the Georgia Collegiate Folksong Festival, and wrote book and movie reviews and columns for various Georgia newspapers and The New York Herald Tribune. A number of his articles appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution magazine.
Dr. Griffith served in the U.S. Navy from 1943-46. He became a lieutenant and served in World War II, receiving Atlantic, Pacific, China, Philippines and Victory medals.
Dr. Griffith's wife, Betty Irvine Griffith, preceded him in death in 1998. They have two children, Eugenia Griffith DuPell and Benjamin W. Griffith III, better known as Benjy. Their grandchildren include Jason, Sarah and Lindsey DuPell and Casey, Travis, Wesley and Jessica Griffith.
Visitation will be held at Hart's Mortuary at the Cupola at 6324 Peake Rd. in Macon on Wednesday from 5:30-7 p.m. Dr. Griffith's funeral will be held at 11 a.m. on Thursday at Northminster Presbyterian Church on Wimbish Road in Macon. A private burial will follow.